Kawhi Leonard leads San Antonio Spurs over Orlando Magic

By Tim Povtak, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 11, 2016 at 11:55 AM
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- This is why San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard will be starting in his first NBA All-Star Game this weekend.

He rises to the occasion every night now.

Leonard hit a game-winning, 19-foot jumper with nine-tenths of a second left as the Spurs beat the Orlando Magic, 98-96, Wednesday night, pulling San Antonio to its sixth consecutive victory in this increasingly magical season.

The Spurs (45-8) go into All-Star Weekend with the best record in franchise history, despite playing Wednesday without their starting point guard (Tony Parker) and with their Hall of Fame center/forward (Tim Duncan) playing at half speed after a recent knee injury.

They lean on Leonard now.

"That was a great example of the confidence and belief we all have for Kawhi," Spurs guard Patty Mills said. "We see this kind of game from him every night. He's the one we go to."

On a night when his team looked lethargic, Leonard hit 12 of 19 shots for a game-high 29 points and seven rebounds, carrying them down the stretch.

"I just try to be there for my team," he said. "I practice that kind of shot in practice all the time. Tonight it was just like a practice shot. We pride ourselves in playing all 48 minutes, and tonight we needed them all."

Teammate LaMarcus Aldridge recorded 21 points and seven rebounds. Mills had 17 points and hit a trio of 3-pointers. Danny Green had 12 points, including eight in the final period.

The Magic were led by forward Evan Fournier's 28 points. He tied the game on a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining, setting up Leonard final heroics.

Leonard got the ball at the top of the key, waited for the clock to wind down, then made one quick move before lofting his shot over the arm of forward Aaron Gordon.

The Magic led by as many as 14 points early in the period, but they struggled to score late, going the last three minutes without a basket until Fournier's 3-pointer. They missed four shots and had two turnovers in those final three minutes.

"We've just struggled to make winning plays in key moments," Magic coach Scott Skiles said. "When a play needs to be made, you've got to make it. You could feel the Spurs picking it up, but we didn't respond well."

Magic center Nikola Vucevic had 20 points and 13 rebounds. Guard Victor Oladipo added 14 points. Point guard Elfrid Payton recorded 13 points with seven rebounds and six assists.

Payton missed a short, off-balance shot at the buzzer after getting behind the Spurs defense and taking a length-of-the-court pass following Leonard's basket.

Forward Aaron Gordon grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds with four points. Rookie swingman Mario Hezonja scored 12.

"He (Leonard) got to his spot and shot over me on the final play," Gordon said. "I practically gave him a high-five and it went it. Not much more you could do on that play. We just got undisciplined and they took the momentum back."

Duncan, who returned after missing eight games with a sore knee, had five points, seven rebounds and five assists in 18 minutes. San Antonio was without starting point guard Tony Parker, who was resting a sore ankle.

Aldridge gave the Spurs their first lead of the fourth quarter, 94-93, with 1:10 remaining on a 15-foot jumper. Leonard hit two free throws for the 96-93 lead with 59 seconds remaining.

The Spurs trailed by 12 points going into the fourth. Green scored seven consecutive points when they pulled to within nine points early in the period. Mills and Leonard hit back-to-back 3-pointers to close to 89-86.

The Magic made a 15-3 run midway in the third period that included 3-point plays by both Fournier and Aaron Gordon, giving them a 72-63 lead. The Magic led 79-67 going into the final period after the Spurs made only seven of 26 shots in the third.

The Magic led 51-50 at intermission after closing with an 11-0 run that included two 3-pointers by Oladipo and one by Fournier.

The Spurs took a 50-40 lead -- their largest in the first half -- on back-to-back baskets by Leonard, who had 15 points and four rebounds in the first two periods. Aldridge had 11 points and Fournier 13 before halftime

The Magic led by as many as five points in the first quarter, but the Spurs hit 11 of their last 12 shots in the opening period for a 29-23 lead.

NOTES: Spurs C Tim Duncan returned after missing the previous eight games with a sore right knee. G Manu Ginobili missed his fourth consecutive game recovering from testicular surgery. ... Magic veteran PG C.J. Watson, who signed a three-year contract last summer, was activated after missing the previous 43 games with a left calf injury. Watson was expected to provide veteran leadership this season but has not been a factor since the second week. ... F Tobias Harris, Orlando's fourth leading scorer, missed his third consecutive game with a sore ankle. Backup C Jason Smith hurt his back on Monday against Atlanta and did not play Wednesday. ... The Magic have talked with the Clippers about a possible deal involving F Blake Griffin, according to the well-respected publication Basketball Insiders. ... Spurs F LaMarcus Aldridge, acquired this summer, came into Wednesday having led the Spurs in scoring in five of the previous seven games. ... The Spurs will have the best winning percentage in franchise history going into All-Star weekend. ... This was the second of eight consecutive road games that the Spurs will play because of an annual indoor rodeo at AT&T Center. ... Spurs PG Tony Parker missed the game to rest a sore ankle despite looking fine warming up.

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